Healthy Foods for Kids

Healthy Foods for Kids

By Sara Moffett, Deli Manager, Co-op Owner

Kids can sometimes be our harshest critics in the kitchen. Figuring out how to feed children healthy, nutritious foods can be stressful, and even when food is served it doesn’t mean your kids will want to eat what is offered. If you are looking for versatile and easy to prepare snack options for children these suggestions might be helpful at your next meal – and you might like them as well!

Yogurt: Yogurt is a great option for a healthy breakfast, snack, or dessert for kids, just make sure that the sugar content isn’t too high, some yogurts contain as much sugar as a candy bar! Yogurt contains a lot of protein and vitamin D as well as good bacteria to maintain gut health. Greek and Icelandic yogurts also pack more protein than other varieties, which promotes fullness and satiety. These do have some natural sugar in them, but typically few to no added sugars compared to other styles of yogurt. 

Beans: Beans are very nutritious foods. Packed with protein and fiber, beans are cheap and easy to prepare. When shopping, buy low-sodium canned beans such as black beans, chickpeas, or kidney beans. Open the can and rinse the beans to remove extra sodium and add the beans to any dish! Replace ground beef with beans in quesadillas or add bean pasta to your pasta dishes to add more fiber and lean protein. Small kids need around 25 grams of fiber a day, and most treats, like fruit snacks and cheese crackers, have little to no fiber. For healthy digestion and keeping kids fuller longer, fiber is key.

Eggs: Like the foods previously listed, eggs have a lot of protein, vitamin D, B12, and iron. You can also find eggs that are fortified with omega 3 fatty acids, which are shown to aid in brain development. The kids in your life may enjoy sunny-side up eggs or scrambled eggs. If not, try presenting eggs in unique ways like egg salad or in egg casseroles or quiches.

Avocados: Avocados contain healthy fats and have a lot of benefits. They are high in monounsaturated fat, which can decrease inflammation and keep cholesterol levels healthy. Fats digest slowly, keeping bellies fuller longer. Try preparing these in many ways: eat them with a spoon, put some in a smoothie, make sauces, add chicken or tuna for a yummy salad, or enjoy on toast!

Milk: Although babies shouldn’t have cow’s milk until age one, offering children milk can help build strong bones. Milk is full of calcium and vitamin D. Cow’s milk is not the only option for milk; almond, cashew and soy are all good milk alternatives. Try to choose unsweetened or plain varieties as they will have less added sugar. Of these alternatives, soy milk has the most protein, and other alternative milks have slightly different nutrition profiles. However, as long as these milks are fortified, you will get the same calcium and vitamin D benefits.

Berries are a sweet but healthy snack.

Berries: Berries are high in fiber, vitamin C, and loaded with antioxidants. Berries like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are lower in sugar than other fruits. Shopping the freezer section is a great solution to finding affordable out of season berries. Versatile in smoothies, parfaits, or just easy snacks, berries are crowd-pleasers.

Vegetables: A variety of colorful vegetables will enhance your diet with different nutrients. Greens are high in vitamin K, oranges and reds have vitamin A, and some vegetables could help fight cancer and improve gut health. Have vegetables available for snacking. Make it easy for kids to walk to the fridge and grab healthy choices like celery, carrots, and cucumbers. You can wash and prepare these snacks ahead of time. Have a veggie pizza night and mix familiar foods in with new veggies. Including children in meal prep is also an important step in building a good relationship with healthy foods. If you have some space available for a garden, growing vegetables will be rewarding for you and your children. Your kids will be excited to try foods that they had a hand in growing. And if your child refuses one time, don’t stop offering the food. They might want to try it the next time it is offered. Changing how an item is served could transform the dish, for example if your child doesn’t like raw carrots right now, they might like cooked carrots. The same goes for raw tomatoes versus cooked pasta sauce.

Whole Grains: Whole grains are great foods for adding fiber. Fiber is a nutrient most kids lack, and fiber helps to keep kids feeling full longer. Most snacks only contain 1-3 grams per serving, but kids need 25 grams a day. When shopping, look for 100% whole wheat or whole grain foods that have 3-5 grams of fiber per serving. Good examples of high fiber whole grain foods are oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain pastas, whole wheat tortillas and breads. You could also add some whole wheat flour to your pancake mixes, baking projects, and doughs.

Uniquely shaped pancakes can encourage kids to enjoy whole grain flours.

Remember that kids are constantly mirroring the adults around them, so be a good role model for healthy eating. Take time to have sit-down meals with your children. Eat together family style where good food is present and you are also present. Get rid of distractions such as phones and talk to your kids and play games at the table. Take the pressure off the food and connect with your family. You are not alone in having picky eaters, but pushing food is not the answer. Also try to avoid absolutes at the table yourself. Instead of saying “You probably won’t like this, but you should give it a try.”, say “I am going to try the broccoli tonight, do you want to try some, too?”. Try new foods together. When you create freedom for children to make choices and create new foods with you, they will be more likely to enjoy the foods and become little chefs themselves.

For more information on recommended food guidelines go to USDA Myplate .

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